Tag Archives: billy sherwood

Yes, No or Maybe?

YesAsiaPalmer2019_ad2I’ve been a Yes fan and patron going back to my teenage years, and I’ve seen them more than any other band since. My first chance to see the group was during 1977’s Going for the Onetour at the fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California. It began a lifelong patronage.

The Revolving Door: Before and since that first experience, the lineup of musicians who play as part of Yes has been ever changing. Jon Anderson (original vocalist), Steve Howe (guitars), Rick Wakeman and Tony Kaye (keyboards) have come and gone more than once. Guitarist Steve Howe joined after original member Pete Banks left, and Trevor Rabin replaced him in the 80s. Drummer Alan White joined after original maestro Bill Bruford left just before the Close to the Edgetour. In 1980 Jon left for what turned out to be one record, and Trevor Horn sang vocals while Geoff Downes, his partner in the Buggles played keys. Personnel changes only accelerated after that, from 1980 up through today.

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I’ve continued to see the band many times since original singer Jon Anderson’s second departure in 2008, due to health issues. When Anderson left for that second time, the band first recruited singer Benoit David, then current singer Jon Davison, who is skilled at covering Anderson’s vocal parts. In 2015 we mourned the passing of Chris Squire, the exceptional bass player and vocalist for Yes and it’s most consistent member. When Squire first announced that his illness would preclude his involvement in the remainder of 2015’s Yes tour, he also indicated his support for collaborator Billy Sherwood, who stepped into the role with grace and reverence, bringing his own skills and style to the stage. Alan White’s recent surgery sidelined him, and ex-Hurricane/Conspiracy/Asia drummer Jay Schellen replaces White for most of the show. Last year, and two years prior, we were able to catch three other core members of Yes billed as ARW – Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin and Rick Wakeman for several solid performances that found Jon’s voice completely recovered from prior illness. Whew, so many Yes’s so little time!

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Which Yes is Yes?Unfortunately, rabid fans carp about “which Yes is Yes” constantly on social media, acting as if they hold the title of band manager, planner, and critic. A common post is “no Yes without Jon” as fans then argue about whether the “official” Yes led by Steve Howe (and Chris Squire before his passing) have any right to play the songs without Jon Anderson. Some of the critics attended the limited ARW tours over the last few years and when they decry the official act, call it a “tribute” or “cover” band. Taste is subjective, but the criticism of particular members gets harsh.

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The Important Point:In reality, there’s been something to admire in every Yes tour since the band’s inception and always there have been transcendent moments, no matter what combination of musicians are on stage. Fundamentally, the compositions are amazing and the performances are inspiring as Yes builds their long songs to astral crescendos of power and emotion. They are truly an amazing band, packed with virtuoso musicians whatever the collective, and they are the musicians I’ve seen play live more than any other. This fan catches as many Yes (official), ARW, and Wakeman or Anderson solo tours as possible. Soon, with the passing of time, there will be no more original members of Yes, unfortunately and the baton will be “officially” handed over to tribute bands. If I’m still on this mortal coil I will be there still as this music is meant to be heard in a live setting, and it’s magical when done right.

Case in Point:This year the band booked a summer tour of America, the Royal Affair tour with openers Asia, John Lodge (of the Moody Blues) and Carl Palmer (of ELP) opening.

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YesAsiaPalmer2019_KR_Asia1The show at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga was fantastic. Carl Palmer led his small band through several highlights from the ELP catalog with Arthur Brown covering lead vocals and delivering us his 1960’s hit “Fire” as well. I have to admit we skipped the set from The Moody Blues’ John Lodge’s to go talk to Roger Dean who was showing his work, but he was very well received. We were back inside for Asia, who nailed a rousing set of their best tracks, along with “Lucky Man” from ELP. Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal expertly covered the lead vocal duties formerly helmed by the late John Wetton, and played guitar through the first part of the set, after which Steve Howe did a walk on for the older songs.

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Once Yes took the stage, they performed rousing renditions of songs like “Tempus Fugit” and “Siberian Khatru” at the proper pace and with accuracy. The centerpiece moment this time was a piece of music they hadn’t played for decades, side one of Relayer (1975) — “The Gates of Delirium” and “Soon.” This is over 20 minutes of the most challenging progressive rock the band ever wrote, with one-time keyboard player Patrick Moraz. While it cleared a few rows of attendees out of the venue, we were transfixed. Howe sliced thru the staccato guitar riffs that lead into and reach crescendo during “the battle” section of “Gates…” as the long song tells the tale of the development, pursuit, and aftermath of war. Downes hit his leads, Davison nailed the highest notes, and Sherwood gently colored “Soon’s” soft tones with care that would have made Squire proud. If the group as rumored will be back to do the whole album with Moraz guesting, it will be spectacular.

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Every band that night had experienced the loss of former colleagues who have passed on. We lost Asia’s John Wetton, and Keith Emerson and Greg Lake from ELP just over the last few years. Songs were highlighted during those sets as being played for these fallen musical heroes, to somber effect, and some celebration of lives well lived and music shared.

All in all a great show – one that left an exclamation mark on the statement that anyone interested in seeing members of Yes ply their most amazing trade live, should be going out to support them. In addition, Rick Wakeman just played Journey to the Center of the Earthon two nights in London for what he says is the last time. He is doing a solo tour of the states this fall, as is Jon Anderson. So hey, we get to see almost every key member who’ve been in Yes over these many years, just on different nights – go for the one!

(A shout out to Kim – Most fabulous photos above © kimreedphotos.com)

Billy Sherwood and Citizen

BillySherwood_CitizenCover_72dpiBilly Sherwood’s inventive new concept album Citizen is available now. Each of 11 songs follows a central character, “the citizen” who is reincarnated into different periods in history, experiencing the time he’s inhabiting, whether it be as a WWI soldier, an American Indian on the trail of tears, or a stock broker during the market crash of 1929. It’s a vehicle that allows Billy to delve into many emotions with matching soundscapes, leading the listener to experience the triumphs and tragedies of man’s history. Billy plays almost all instruments on the album including bass and drums on every track but the opener “The Citizen,” which contains the last recording from Yes bass player and long time Sherwood collaborator Chris Squire. Billy also adds guitars and keyboards on many tracks, joined by an A-list of collaborators like Rick Wakeman, Steve Hackett, Patrick Moraz, Geoff Downes, Steve Morse, Jon Davison, Alan Parsons and more. I talked to Billy this week about the new album, and his role with Yes going forward.

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Citizen has so many guest musicians – how much of that was done in person – what was your process for getting it all on record?

Well, file-share is a big part of the world we live in. If we tried to pull together a record like this back in the day it would be a very, very expensive process, traveling around, shuffling tapes. The way we do it now is doable. I recorded Jon Davison in my house, and I went to Alan Parsons’ studio to record his vocal for “Empire.” For the track “The Citizen,” which features Chris Squire on bass, we recorded at a Holiday Inn near his home. Since I carry my mobile recording studio with me on the road, I just set up in the hotel and turned it into my studio for the day, and he did a great job.

The thing about working with artists on this level, is they know exactly what to do – I don’t need to be sitting over their shoulder saying “it’s a B-flat!” they can figure that out on their own. I really just lay out the format of the songs and tell each musician to feel free, to add anything else they want to interpret to the song, to add their stamp on the piece in any way they think improves the song. I’m always thrilled when I get these files back because they are consistently great. I sit there smiling to myself when I listen to it all; it’s a blessing to have these kinds of players on my record.

When you listen to the song “The Great Depression,” it wouldn’t be that song without Rick Wakeman adding that great piano work. He enhanced that melancholy feeling to the whole thing. I said to Rick when I sent the file, “this is about a guy who’s at the end of his rope, this citizen is reincarnated as an investment banker from the Great Depression and he’s lost it all and is about to take his own life.” It made me sad to sing that song; even though it’s a fictional character, I was feeling for that guy. That’s something about music that’s important, to evoke those emotions from the listener. The track is very melancholy and instead of a synth solo, Rick’s piano piece was exactly what I was looking for.

Everyone on the record delivered that same quality and expertise, their performances accentuated the lyrical content. These guys have been doing it for so long, they’re not playing it for their ego; they’re playing for the song. And that’s what music is all about – to make the song shine and there are many components that do that. A guitar player coming in and shredding over the top of something to show his chops is not what it’s always about – it’s about lending the right notes and vibes to the track. They know exactly what to do.

“Trail of Tears” is another standout track, and features Patrick Moraz on keyboards

Watch the video for Trail of Tears on Youtube

He played some amazing melodies that lent themselves to the emotion of the song. When I saw him in Florida recently he was raving about what the lyrics meant to him and how he loved being involved. The lyrics are kind of heavy, talking about the trials and tribulations of the American Indians and what they went through at that time, and it moved him – he was expressing that to me and so translated those emotions into his work.

I wanted the listener to be able to put on headphones with eyes closed, to have a sense of becoming the citizen, in that moment, and to be transported into that time period and feel that emotion and trepidation, or joy or whatever the case may be. I’m happy with the way it came out in that regard. It’s a concept that could be taken further with more records. There are so many amazing moments in world history. With an album you only have so much time to speak and there is a lot more that could be said with this character. I tried to key into these monumental moments in history that were not only profound for the Citizen character, but for all of us. For this record I chose what I thought would be interesting subjects and historical facts. In one way it is complete fiction, in the other it is hardcore reality. For instance when you get to “Age of the Atom” it is kind of frightening and scary because we’re talking about nuclear technology and weapons and who’s got them, particularly in light of current events.

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Do you foresee touring for this album, and if so who would be in the band?

We are going to tour it, and I’ve got management looking at gigs now. Yes has become a priority in my life, which it always has been. Whenever they call I answer. I’ve always been there for the guys – it has come in and out of my life so many times. Chris wanted me to take his position in the band and so did the other members. But there is time still to do other things, and my other priority is to get Citizen on the road. I’ve built a core band already. I will be playing bass and lead vocals. I will be joined by Scott Conner from my band Circa on drums, John Thomas from the band XNA, a band I produced, on guitars, Scott Walton who appeared as an auxiliary keyboard player on the Circa Live and Conspiracy releases. The core of the band will be the four of us, and we plan to have guests playing with us as well – there’s nothing confirmed yet but I’ve spoken to several musicians from the album, and they’ve all mentioned their desire to participate, schedules permitting. That’s the plan.

I want to say “thank you” to the fans, thanks for supporting the project. I can’t wait to get out there on stage – please come see it live!

Here’s one patron who will make it a point to get to one of these shows. Last week I returned from Cruise to the Edge (CTTE), the rock festival, where Billy performed on bass and vocals, stepping in for Chris Squire who passed on earlier this year. It was a remarkable show, and Billy did Chris proud, replicating his trademark sound while still interpreting the songs anew. We talked about the Yes tours for a few minutes.

Billy, the CTTE Set list included “Soon,” a surprise track that sounded amazing. What have you experienced or learned playing and singing with Yes on this tour?

In all my other bands I’m the lead singer, so approaching the background vocals for me is actually easier to do. That said it’s also tricky, there is a lot of dexterity required for playing while singing. Delivering those crazy bass lines and singing simultaneously is a challenge. One example would be “Tempus Fugit.” You sort of have to detach the two sides of your mind and let one go one way and one go the other. If I really stop and look down at what I’m playing it confuses me so I try not to look at the fret board! That’s something I always admired about Chris – how fluid and easy he made that look, but it is tricky. And then there are the bass pedals to put into the equation!

“Soon” is a beautiful piece of music from Relayer. It is so cool the way Chris composed that bass part. As there are no drums, the tempo is derived from the bass part. When I was starting to play bass around age 16 I always tried to play to the hardest stuff I could find. “Gates of Delirium” from Relayer is an example, a bear of a track to learn. The bass line is intense and relentless. I love that record, used to play to that record every day to get my chops up.

Will the Drama/Fragile tour make it to the US?

I hope so because it’s a lot to learn! I’m confident that we will be bringing it to the states next year. There are plans to do a lot more touring around the world. Yes is my passion and priority and I look forward to the future of Yes.

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Photo Credits:

Michi Sherwood
Doug Harr, Diego Spade Productions, Inc.

Citizen Credits

1: The Citizen
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Drums
Chris Squire Bass
Tony Kaye Keyboards & Hammond Organ

2: Man & The Machine
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Keyboards / Bass / Drums
Steve Hackett Guitar

3: Just Galileo And Me
Colin Moulding Lead Vocals
Billy Sherwood Backing Vocals / Keyboards / Guitars / Harmonica / Bass / Drums

4: No Mans Land
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Keyboards / Bass / Drums
Steve Morse Guitar

5: The Great Depression
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Rick Wakeman Keyboards & Grand Piano

6: Empire
Alan Parsons Lead & Backing Vocals
Jerry Goodman Violins
Billy Sherwood Backing Vocals / Keyboards / Guitars / Bass / Drums

7: Age Of The Atom
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Geoff Downes Keyboards

8: Trail Of Tears
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Patrick Moraz Keyboards

9: Escape Velocity
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Guitars / Bass / Drums
Jordan Rudess Keyboards

10: A Theory All it’s Own
Billy Sherwood Vocals / Keyboards / Bass / Drums
John Wesley Guitar

11: Written In The Centuries
Jon Davison Lead Vocals
Billy Sherwood Backing Vocals / Keyboards / Guitars / Bass / Drums